Who Are You Going to Work For?

by Lois Tverberg

Freedom is the theme of God’s greatest miracles in history. Jews look back on the freeing of Israel from bondage in Egypt as their foundation as a people. They still celebrate this yearly at Passover, when they commemorate the night they were liberated. Christians recall Jesus’ death and resurrection as an act that brought far greater freedom for all people who believe in him, from bondage to sin and death itself.

In light of these two great acts of liberation from bondage, we may be uncomfortable with the fact that instead of speaking only of freedom, Jesus and Paul often speak about being “slaves” to God or Christ. Jesus says that “You cannot serve two masters, God and money” (Matt 6:24), and Paul says, “You were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19 & 7:23). Paul and other New Testament authors also introduce themselves at the beginning of each book as being “slaves of Christ.”1

It seems paradoxical to speak about slavery and being set free simultaneously, but if we look back and understand God’s first redemption of Israel, we will see how this really is a theme from the beginning of the scriptures to the end. God set his people free from cruel masters to become his own, as their rightful Lord. Both at the first exodus and in Christ’s fulfillment, this picture teaches us much about what our relationship to God really is.

Set Free from Cruel Masters

The common belief of people in the ancient near east was that the world is filled with many spiritual beings that control nature and prosperity. These “gods” were unpredictable and cruel, and used humans as playthings and slaves to serve their own desires.2 Ancient people understood that all people were the slaves of the gods, and each tribe had its own gods that ruled over them, so that to survive, they had to appease the gods through religious ceremonies and magical incantations.

Because of these beliefs, many ancient writings reflect a perpetual sense of hopelessness, anxiety and fear of the spirit world that was hostile to humanity. Interestingly, this pessimistic worldview of polytheism is widespread, from ancient times even up to today.3

Knowing this helps us read the story of the redemption of Egypt as an ancient person would have understood it. They saw this story as a true spiritual battle between the God of Israel and the gods of the Egyptians. Not only were the Israelites in bondage to physical slavery, they were in bondage to these evil gods, including Pharaoh, who considered himself a god.

Each plague was directed at a specific god of the Egyptians: Hekt, the frog god; Hapi, the Nile god; Ra, the sun god, etc., and the final plague was against Pharaoh himself (Ex. 12:12). The imagery here is that as God fought and defeated each one, God was winning a battle to take his own people out of the hands of other “gods” so that he would be their God, and they would become his people — his “slaves” as it were (Ex. 6:7, 2 Sam. 7:23).

A key to understanding this is to look at the Hebrew word for “worship,” avad, which has parallels in other languages of the near east. Along with meaning “worship,” it also means “serve” or “work,” and the related noun, eved, means “servant” or “slave.” So, the “worshippers,” avadim, of a god could also be seen as the god’s servants or slaves.

When God challenged Pharaoh, “Let my people go so that they may avad me” (Ex. 8:1), this didn’t just mean so that they could worship him, but that they were to be freed from slavery to the false god Pharaoh, so that they could avad, serve and worship their rightful God.

God later commanded that his people should “worship,” avad, no other gods, which can also be translated to mean they should “serve” no other gods. They were set free from them to serve and worship the true God alone. Serving and worshipping may not seem related to us, but really, service is the truest expression of worship of a god.4

God’s Compassion on Mount Sinai

After Israel was freed from bondage, they arrived at Mount Sinai, where God gave him his laws that showed how he wanted them to avad, worship and serve him as his people. We hardly think to compare the laws of the Torah to other law codes of the time, but it is interesting to see how God’s rules show that their new “master” was vastly different from their old masters — he governed with great compassion, and cared about the needs of his people.

We modern-day readers hardly appreciate the profound ethical change that the laws of the Torah made relative to other codes of its time, and how fundamental its precepts are to our own laws.5

Other codes had no ethic of equal treatment in regard to rich and poor, so a crime against a person of a high class carried a much greater punishment than one against a low class person. Cheating in a business transaction with a high class person carried the death penalty. In contrast, murder of a lower class person was punishable by a fine based on his social status. In Israel, all were alike under the law, and poor and rich treated equally.

In cases of crime, the Torah was far more humane. In other countries, punishments for even minor crimes were often brutal and mutilating, and often including floggings, amputation and torture. In the Torah, fines were common but physical punishments were rare, and only for severe offenses against the nation or God.

The law that sounds most shocking, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is actually misunderstood. The expression was actually an idiom that wasn’t taken literally, but actually meant equitable punishment that fits the crime. (An eye for an eye — not a scolding for an eye, or a life for an eye.) It was an ancient expression from laws originally meant to limit punishment for an injury to no more than the injury itself, because without it, the victim’s clan would want greater vengeance, escalating into feuds. Scholars believe that it was not followed literally in Israel, but monetary fines were given for injuries instead.

In other codes, very little protection was given to those who were vulnerable to exploitation. The main goal of other law codes was to protect the assets of the wealthy from the lower class by threatening them with punishment for theft or destruction of property. Israel’s laws were instead very concerned for the protection of the poor, the alien, the widows and orphans.

People were to tithe their money to give to the poor, and let them glean from their crops (Deut. 18:29, Lev. 23:22). They were not to mistreat an alien, but to “love them as themselves” (Lev. 19:34). Much of the code of Israel is specifically written to protect the weakest members of the society, unlike any other nation of the time.6

With these differences in mind, the laws of the Torah show great fairness toward all levels of society, compassion for the vulnerable, and amazing concern for the sanctity of human life. Our own culture has been so transformed by these basic principles that we can hardly imagine the world without them.

The more we see the contrast between God’s ways and the rest of the ancient world, the more we see that the love of Christ in the gospels was fully present in the God who revealed himself on Sinai. In essence, we see the Father and Son as one and the same. The God who Israel was to avad, worship, cared deeply for humanity, and his servants were to mirror his concern as well.

Being God’s Slave to be Free

The most striking difference between God’s ethics compared to other nations was the laws regulating slavery, which teach us a lot about how God viewed his people as his own avadim. In the ancient world, slavery was a given. Knowing that humanity can only change so much, God did not outlaw it, but he gave laws that made it far more humane.

Many of the Torah’s regulations were unheard of in any other culture, and ultimately aimed to undermine the practice altogether. Only six days a week could a master demand a slave to serve him — all slaves had a day of rest every week, and celebrated holy days, too. If a master permanently injured a slave in any way, even causing him to lose a tooth, the slave was given his freedom. Women slaves were to have equal rights as other daughters and wives.

If the slave was a Hebrew who had sold himself because of debt, he had to be freed in six years and given a substantial gift of crops and supplies when he left (Deut. 15:14). If he loved his master he could pledge himself in permanent servitude, and his ear would be pierced to show his commitment. But the most amazing law was that if a slave ran away from his master, he was not to be returned, but allowed to live free anywhere in Israel!

You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall live with you in any place he may choose… you must not mistreat him. (Deut. 23:15)

In every other law code, the penalty for not returning a slave was death. This radical reversal of ethics shows God’s great desire for freedom for his people. In fact, most of the time when God speaks of his people as his slaves, it is to protect their freedom and keep them from being enslaved to anyone else! For instance:

If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. For they are My avadim (servants/slaves), whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale. (Lev. 25:42)

The year of Jubilee was also for that purpose — to redeem all of God’s people from bondage to anyone else, because they were his alone. If a person sold himself to a foreigner because of debt, the reason they were set free at the jubilee was because, “the sons of Israel are my avadim, they are my avadim whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God!” (Lev. 25:54-55). God set his people free to be his own, and for this reason they shall remain free.

Slaves of Christ

Many places in the New Testament use the image that just as God “purchased” or “redeemed” his people from slavery in Egypt, all who believe in Christ have also been “purchased”:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19)

Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. (1 Cor 7:22-23)

In this second verse, the ideas of being slaves but being free are once again interwoven. We have been redeemed from the evil masters of sin and death to become slaves of Christ, who actually won our freedom. When we are his, he will not let us be slaves to anything else.

Who will we serve?

How do we live this out? In Exodus, after God redeemed his people, he gave them his Torah so that they could know how to serve him. God didn’t give them the law before he redeemed them and then expect them to earn their freedom — he redeemed them entirely out of grace.

Afterward, he gave them his law so that as his avadim, worshippers and servants, they would live in a way that would show the world his justice and love. In the same way, Jesus spent most of his earthly ministry giving us his Torah, his teaching, to show us how to serve him. Jesus’ laws didn’t negate the Torah, but rather he made it more encompassing and brought it to a higher level. If we say we worship Jesus, we must also serve him by doing his will.

It may come to us as news that every human is the servant of a greater master — whether an idolatrous god or our own appetites. We really don’t have a choice to be utterly free of any master, any more than we have a choice to quit a bad job in order to do absolutely nothing, because we need to support ourselves to live.

In the working world, we are “redeemed” from a bad employer when we find an employer who gives us fulfilling work and cares for our personal welfare. We move from one kind of serving to another kind of serving, not to be free from serving anything at all.

In the same way, we all need to choose our master, and in doing so, we should look at a potential master’s character to see whom we should choose. Will we serve pagan gods whose people lived in terror of them? Or will we serve a God who has great compassion for even the weakest of his people? Will we serve the demanding idols of success and money, who destroy our families and lives? Or will we serve our Master who sacrificed himself for our sins, and came not to be served, but to serve instead?

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1See the beginning verses of the books of Romans, Colossians, Titus, 2 Peter, Jude, and others. The writer of each book refers to himself as a doulos (“slave”) of Christ. Even though English translations often soften the word to “servant,” it really refers to a slave, not a servant.

2Understanding Genesis by Nahum Sarna (New York: Shocken Books, 1966), p. 16-18.

3See Christ’s Witchdoctor, by Homer Dowdy (Gresham, OR: Vision House, 1994) p. 7, 23, 46. This is the fascinating autobiography of a witchdoctor in a South American native tribe who came to Christ in the 1950s. He said that even though his tribe was prosperous and safe, they lived with constant fear of the spiritual world around them that they saw as mostly evil, and aimed to destroy them.

4Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg & Bruce Okkema, (En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004) p. 21-22.

5See Exploring Exodus, by Nahum Sarna (New York: Shocken Books, 1986), p. 171-189. This is a fascinating comparison of the ancient near eastern laws to the Torah that shows the enormous ethical difference between the laws of Israel and other lands.

6Ibid, p. 179

7JPS Commentary on Exodus, by N. Sarna (New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), p. 125

Photos: Kyle Frederick on UnsplashColor Crescent on Unsplash, Location of Mt. Sinai from bibleplaces.comJames Barr on Unsplash

Jesus, the True Lamb of Passover

by Lois Tverberg 

The most important week of the year for Christians is Holy Week, when we remember Jesus’ death and resurrection as the lamb that was sacrificed for our sins. Throughout the year we remind ourselves of Jesus’ atonement when we hold up the bread and wine from the Last Supper and think about Jesus’ body that was broken, and his blood that was shed for us.

Some may wonder why we speak of Jesus as the “lamb” or why he talks about bread as his “body” or of a “new covenant” in his “blood.” The key to unlocking many of these important themes is to realize that they are all aspects of the ancient feast of Passover, which was being fulfilled in a powerful new way that year in Christ.

Passover

Passover was the first and most important of the seven feasts that God commanded his people to celebrate. It was a time of great joy, a commemoration of the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt that marked the beginning of their nation and defined them as God’s people. Christians may not realize that Jews still consider the exodus God’s greatest act of salvation in the Scriptures. It was at this time of thanking God for his redemption that Jesus completed his much greater act of saving his people for all eternity.

Up until the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the central feast of Passover was a lamb which each family sacrificed and ate as part of a sacred meal. In Exodus, the blood of the lamb was daubed on the doorposts of the houses of Israel, to mark them as protected from judgment on Egypt during the plague against the firstborn sons of Egypt.

Interestingly, Jesus, God’s firstborn, was arrested and condemned the night after the Passover meal, just as the firstborn sons of Egypt long ago. His blood protected us, and he himself took on the condemnation which was upon us as it was on the Egyptians.

The Passover lamb was significant in that it was an offering eaten by the worshippers. The fact that the people were allowed to eat the sacrifice signified that it was part of a covenantal meal between them and God.

All Israelites were required to participate. If a person was unable to, he needed to celebrate one month later (Numbers 9:9-13). Throughout the history of Israel, Passover celebrations often signified Israel’s national recommitment to their covenant with God. Now we can see why Jesus uses this time to speak of a “new covenant” — a fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34, when God said he would make a new covenant to forgive his people’s sins and give them a new heart to love him.

Passover was also the first night of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. All leavened food had to be removed from homes to commemorate the exit of the Israelites from Egypt before their bread could rise. Leaven was also understood to be symbolic of sin and was never allowed in sacrifices. Jesus would have been holding a piece of unleavened bread in his hand when he said “This is my body,” signifying his worthiness as a sacrifice.

It is particularly interesting that for thousands of years, Passover has been understood to be both be a remembrance of God’s past salvation, as well as a time to expect God’s future redemption in the Messiah. They saw this as originally coming from a passage in Exodus:

“This same night is a night of watching unto the Lord for all the children of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:42).

The people of all generations were to watch for God’s final redeemer, the Messiah. Even today a door is opened and a place is set for Elijah, who is expected to announce the coming Messiah. Jesus used this time of great expectancy to proclaim himself as the Messianic King, bringing a new covenant for forgiveness of sins through the atonement by his own blood.

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Further reading:

Our Great Redemption
The Greater Story of Exodus
Who Are You Going to Work For?
Eating at the Lord’s Table
The Imagery of Leaven
The Powerful Imagery of Blood
Longing For Moses

The Lord’s Table as Covenant Meal, written by John Mark Hicks 
He Who Is Coming: The Hidden Afikoman, by Paul Sumner

If you would like to keep learning, En-Gedi also recommends the following articles:

Has DaVinci Painted Our Picture of Jesus?
Repainting Da Vinci Again
The Samaritan Passover
Passover in the Time of Jesus, by Daniel B. Wallace
New Light on Jesus’ Last Week

Photos: En-Gedi Resource Center, A Seder table setting [Public Domain]

Redemption at Passover

by Lois Tverberg

“I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.” Exodus 6:6-7

The theme of Passover is redemption, when God redeemed his people from slavery from Egypt. We miss the full implications if we don’t understand the ancient meaning of that word. If a man fell into debt and went into slavery, a kinsman would be needed to “buy” him back to freedom. But once the man was redeemed by being “purchased,” his relationship to his redeemer changed. Now he was specifically bound to his redeemer, and he became “his,” only as a close family member, not as a slave. As an example, when Boaz acted as kinsman redeemer to Ruth, she became his wife (Ruth 4:9-10).

God is using this image when He told Moses to say to His people,

`I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. `Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God. (Exodus 6:6-7)

God is saying that He will redeem them as a kinsman would, and purchase them as His own people, forming a relationship so that they would be uniquely His, and He would be their God. This verse is recited every year at Passover to remember the relationship that God began with His people through His redemption.

Each of the four verbs God used in the promise above (bring out, deliver, redeem, and take) is related to one of the four cups of wine used in the Seder meal. The third cup of the Passover meal is called the Cup of Redemption, and was associated with God’s promise, “I will redeem you”. This is the cup that Jesus held up at the last Passover supper, and said was His blood shed to redeem us as His people, in a new covenant for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is describing how through His atoning death, he has “purchased us”, to set us free from slavery to sin and death. By this transaction, we have been brought into a new relationship with Him as His covenantal people. His disciples understood the magnitude of Jesus’ redemptive “purchase” of us and expressed it this way:

…You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Pet 1:18-19

Praise the Lord for the great purchase that He made 2000 years ago, when the cup of suffering became the cup of redemption, when He purchased us as His people. Whenever you think of His death and resurrection, remember that we are not our own, but we are His, bought with a price. That should make us eager to serve our resurrected King, Christ the Lord.

Dayeinu – It Would Have Been Enough

by Lois Tverberg

If He had rescued us from Egypt,
but not punished the Egyptians,
It would have been enough. (Dayeinu )

If He had punished the Egyptians,
but not divided the Red Sea before us,
It would have been enough.

If He had divided the Red Sea before us,
but not supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
It would have been enough.

If He had supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
but not brought us to the land of promise,
It would have been enough.

If He had brought us to the land of promise,
but not made us a holy people,
It would have been enough.

How much more, then, are we to be grateful to God for all of these good things which he has indeed done for all of us!

The verses above are from a much longer melody that is sung at Passover celebrations every year. It is a very ancient song, written about 1000 years ago. It is one of my favorite parts of the celebration, as a long list of God’s blessings are recounted, with the idea that if God would have stopped at any one, they would have been completely satisfied. What a wonderful attitude of gratefulness! How much longer would the list be if we as Christians added to them…

If He had redeemed me with His suffering and death,
but not filled me with His Spirit,
it would have been enough.

If He had filled me with His Spirit,
but did not guide my life daily as His disciple,
it would have been enough.

If He guided my life daily as His disciple,
but did not lovingly answer my prayers,
it would be enough.

If He lovingly answered my prayers
but did not give me His promise to spend eternity with Him,
it would be enough.

(Add your own verses here!)

How much more, then, are we to be grateful to God for all of these good things which he has indeed done for all of us!

The Bones of Joseph

Bones laid to rest

by Lois Tverberg

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” – Exodus 13:15

The Bible shares a detail about the Israelites made their great departure of Egypt that we might see as minor – that Moses brought the bones of Joseph along with them. In Genesis it is recorded that Joseph knew that God would take his family out of Egypt and asked to be taken with them:

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.” So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. – Gen. 50:24-26

To us it might seem minor, but this detail adds a remarkable amount of continuity and closure to Bones laid to restthe greater story of Joseph and the family of Israel in Egypt. Joseph was the first of the family to go
down into Egypt, and he was exiled there by his own brothers’ hatred. Now, just as his own family sent him down there, his family would need to carry him back out again. Or another way of looking at it is that Joseph had brought his whole family down to Egypt to rescue them from famine, and once again he would be with them when God rescued them from oppression.

In his early years, Joseph had dreamed of being a ruler, but this was the reason his brothers hated him and sent him into bondage. In spite of years of prison and dashed hopes in his own dreams, in faith he interpreted the Pharaoh’s and his servants’ visions, and his accurate interpretation was why Pharaoh set him free. At the end of Joseph’s life, he had one last “dream” – that God would bring his whole family out of Egypt and into the land he ultimately promised, and God fulfilled that one too.

In a sense, once Joseph was sold into bondage, that was the very beginning of the captivity of the family of Israel, because for the next 400 years, at least one of their family was not free to live in the land God gave them. Joseph was allowed to bury his father in Israel, but had to return to Egypt to be buried, showing his (temporary) loss of claim on God’s promise. (See “Enslaving Themselves.”) But when God did come to rescue Israel and they took even Joseph’s bones, it showed that not one person who had waited faithfully on the Lord was left behind when God came to rescue his people.


Photo: Tomas Castelazo

A Night of Watching

Vigil

by Lois Tverberg

It was a night of watching for the LORD to bring them out from the land of Egypt; and so on this night all Israel is to keep the vigil to the LORD for generations to come. Exodus 12:42 (NET)

Most know that the Jewish Passover celebration focuses on remembering how God redeemed his people from Egypt, but it also looks forward to God’s final redemption in the coming of the Messiah. The command to remember the deliverance from Egypt is clear to us, but it might be a mystery as to where Jewish people find the idea that they should look forward to redemption as well.

VigilThe answer is in Exodus 12:42, above, that says that all Israel is to keep vigil for generations to come. They saw this as meaning that they should be watching for what great thing that God will do next. Passover is referred to as a “night of vigil,” of keeping watch. Passover begins with the setting of the sun, as all days do in the Hebrew calendar. As the feast day begins, people are mindful of the need to watch for what God will be doing through the night and in the day ahead. The traditional way to observe this command is to open the front door of the house and look out – to show that you are standing alert. Typically, one of the children open the door to see if Elijah is there, because Malachi says that he will come before the Messiah:

“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty…”See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. Mal. 3:1, 4:5

In Jesus’ time, of course, he explains that John the Baptist fulfilled the role of the “Elijah” who would come before him.

It is fascinating, in light of this tradition, that Christ really did complete his mission of dying for our sins on the very day that they were looking for their redeemer to come. Late at night, just hours after the Passover meal Jesus was arrested in the garden, and in the wee hours he stood trial. Before the next day had fully begun, he was being led out to death. Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 26:40 take on special meaning to me now:

“Could you not keep watch with me for just one hour?”


Photo: A01333441jarh

I Do This Because…

Torah Scroll

by Lois Tverberg

“For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the LORD. On that day tell your son, `I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the LORD is to be on your lips. For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.” – Exodus 13:6, 8-9

In Exodus 13, God told the Israelites to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread every year in order to remember that the Lord brought them out of Egypt. They were to explain that the reason why they did it was because God redeemed them. By performing this ceremony each year, they would be continually mindful and grateful that God had redeemed them, and would teach their children about God’s love for them.

Interestingly, many of the laws of the Torah are rooted in the redemption from Egypt. Out of gratitude and obligation, when the Israelites realized what God had done for them, they should feel compelled to live differently:

Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am Torah Scroll
the LORD, who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am
the LORD. – Lev. 22:31, 33

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him so he can continue to live among you. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. Lev. 25:35, 38

If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Lev. 25:39, 42

Each of the laws above is directly linked to God’s action of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. They should help the poor live in the land because God gave them the land to live in. They shouldn’t hold other Israelites as slaves because God brought them out of slavery. Many other regulations are linked either directly or indirectly back to this act of God on their behalf.

Christians can learn a valuable lesson from this. When we think of our redemption in Christ and the price that he paid for us, it should compel us to live differently. We should forgive others, because he forgave us. We should humbly serve others, because Jesus humbled himself out of love to die for our sins. If we continually remind ourselves of how we’ve been loved, we will love others in the same way.


Photo: Willy Horsch

God Unleashed

Plagues of Egypt

by Lois Tverberg

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'” Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” Exodus 5:1-3

During Moses’ encounters with Pharaoh, God told him to tell Pharaoh that the Israelites needed to take a three-day journey into the desert to worship him (Ex. 3:18, 5:3, 8:27). This is confusing because it sounds as if they are asking for a long weekend off, and then they’ll come back. But in fact, in no place does Moses say that they will return afterward.

Another suggestion is that the phrase “three-day journey” is actually not about the length of time they plan to be away, but the distance they need to travel from Egypt before they worship God. In the Scripture, measuring distance in “days of journey” was common. (See Gen 31:33, Num 10:33, Deut 11:1, 1Ki 19:4, etc.) Moses was likely saying that people must be far away from the false Plagues of Egypt“gods” and oppression of Egypt before they worshipped God, or their awesome God might release plagues and destruction. The Egyptians were the ones in danger!

It seems that Pharaoh was undaunted by Moses’ warnings about the power of his God, and he refused to let the Israelites go a safe distance from Egypt. It is easy to imagine that as this holy God approached his people, getting nearer and nearer, the plagues on Egypt became increasingly worse. First the river ran red from some distant danger sweeping downstream, then the insects started swarming, then the animals started dying, then the sky blackened with hail and locusts and utter darkness as this awesome God approached Egypt.

Finally, when the Israelites went ahead and sacrificed a lamb and worshipped their God right in the midst of Egypt, his full power was unleashed on the Egyptians and destruction poured out on the oppressors of his people. Because Pharaoh would not release Israel to worship their holy God, he came to punish their captors and release them himself.


Photo: John Martin

Bread Without Leaven

Unleaven Bread

by Lois Tverberg

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. Exodus 12:15

Still today Jewish people make great effort to observe the commandment to remove all leaven from their homes and eat only unleavened food for seven days. The home is scrupulously cleaned, and pots and sinks boiled. In some homes an entirely different set of plates is used for one week of the year. The only bread that can be eaten is matzah: dry, flat, unleavened bread that has been carefully prepared to insure no fermentation occurs.

Unleaven BreadWhy do they do this? Surprisingly, the Bible gives multiple explanations about the significance of eating unleavened bread. In Exodus 12:34, it says that it is to commemorate their rapid departure from Egypt, when they didn’t have time to let their bread rise. But in Deuteronomy 16:3, it is called the “bread of affliction” and it seems to be a reminder of the misery of their slavery. Or, it could understood as a picture of eating manna in
the desert for forty years. It is paradoxical that unleavened bread represents both slavery and freedom, but Jewish sources agree that it does.

In the time of Jesus, leaven had gained even more significance beyond the meanings in the Torah. Unleavened bread that is very flat and plain was seen to represent humility, rather than being “puffed” up with pride. Because it is just wheat and water with no old, leavened dough added, it represented purity too. A person who was “unleavened” was like the character described in the beatitudes – meek and pure-hearted, aware of his own weaknesses, who comes to God honestly, without any pretense. In contrast, “leaven” was seen to be a picture of arrogance, boastfulness, hypocrisy, and being full of one’s self – to be “great in spirit” rather than being “poor in spirit.” This gives us insight on why Jesus says that the “leaven” of the Pharisees is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1) And, it helps us understand Paul’s words to us as well:

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Cor. 5:6-8


Photo: paurian

Tasting Bitterness

Bitter herbs

by Lois Tverberg

They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. – Exodus 12:8

In Hebrew, the word translated “bitter,” maror, can also mean anguish, distress or agony. In this culture that often uses concrete images to express abstract concepts, the idea of eating terrible foods describes what life is like in a miserable situation. An important example if this is in the beginning of Exodus where it says that the Egyptians “bittered” the lives of the Israelites with hard labor (Ex. 1:14).

God wanted the Israelites to remember forever the misery they left behind, and to teach their children too, so he commanded them to remember this by eating bitter herbs on the night of Passover. In modern celebrations of the Seder, people eat horseradish to remind themselves of
Bitter herbsthe bitterness of slavery, and parsley dipped in salt water to remember the tears that their ancestors shed. Along with dry, unleavened bread, these items are the only foods availaible through the long ceremony that precedes the Passover dinner, which begins very late. As they talk about God’s redemption of people from Egypt, the people relive that hardship for just an hour while they are hungry for dinner but have only dry bread and bitter herbs to eat. Finally, they feast on a meal of wine and meat and wonderful food, reminding themselves of the joy of God’s redemption.

It is important for us too to remember our spiritual hopelessness and misery before we came to Christ. We must never lose our hunger for the presence of God in our lives, and our gratefulness for the future feast that we will someday celebrate with Christ.


Photo: Yoninah